Why blog?

Okay, so I’ve posted only twice in the last six months, and both times I was posting my grief over dead rock stars. Posting it late, as well – I did the ‘oh man I’m so sad’ thing first on commercial social media sites, then turned up here long afterwards to make a more public statement that fewer people are likely to read.

On the other hand, I’ve had a big internet hit (as academic internet things go) with an article I published on another site with a couple of people I’m lucky to know.[1]

So the question is, why bother with a blog? A few years ago, when I started this thing, I thought I knew the answer: putting all my writing here, I could show how various parts of it fitted together. Does that work?

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For a love I could not obey

Femme fatales emerged from shadows
To watch this creature fair;
Boys stood upon their chairs
To make their point of view.
I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey;
Lady Stardust sang his songs
Of darkness and dismay.

Bowie, 1972

I spent a fortnight looking for the right words. Today, I realised you’d already written them, before I was born.

Goodbye, David.

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Networks of value in electronic music: SoundCloud, London, and the importance of place

[Cross-posted from http://valuingelectronicmusic.org/2015/08/21/networks-of-value-in-electronic-music/]

The first peer-reviewed journal article arising from the Valuing Electronic Music project has now been published in Cultural Trends as part of a special issue on empirical research into cultural value guest-edited by Dave O’Brien. It focuses on a key finding of the project: even though musicians can now distribute their music for free via the internet, their real-world location remains hugely important. Through qualitative research, we found that electronic musicians in London (a) considered themselves to benefit from being based in that city, and (b) considered a particular part of that city (the highly gentrified, ‘hipsterish’ district of Shoreditch and its immediate surroundings) to be particularly advantageous for less commercial kinds of music. Through quantitative research, we found SoundCloud users based in London to occupy a position at the centre of a network of ‘following’ relationships in which the next best locations appeared to be New York and Los Angeles. Our findings are consistent with the view that the 21st century ‘new media’ produce similar exclusions to the ‘big media’ of the 20th century and do not create anything resembling a level playing field between signed and unsigned artists, provincial and metropolitan scenes, or the developed and the developing world.

monochrome_cities_ten_labels_500px

The article is open access so please download the full text to read for yourself.

Allington, D., Dueck, B., and Jordanous, A. (2015). ‘Networks of value in electronic music: SoundCloud, London, and the importance of place’. Cultural Trends 24 (3): pp. 211-222.

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Management, ‘leadership’, and academic work

[Cross-posted on http://www.open.ac.uk/arts/research/finance-crisis-protest/comment-and-debate/management-‘leadership’-and-academic-work]

In a powerful essay cheekily posted on the website of what may be the UK’s most obsessively corporate university, Suman Gupta bluntly asserts that ‘[t]here is no place for leaders in academia.’ (2015, parag. 1) As he observes, once academics-turned-administrators begin ‘imposing some Great Order… by managing and strategising and propaganda, seeking compliance and exercising opaque executive prerogatives, they start killing off academic work’ (2015, parag. 2). With its recent series of questionable management initiatives, from concentration of resources on bureaucratically-selected ‘strategic research areas’ to development of a (second) free MOOC platform on its paying students’ tab, Gupta’s employer must certainly have provided him with ample opportunity to judge the truth of this proposition. But the relevance of his critique is much wider than a single institution, as we see from the tragic case of Stefan Grimm: a highly successful medical researcher who committed suicide whilst being threatened over his failure to meet arbitrary funding targets (see Parr 2014). While the killing off of scholarly work does not invariably mean the killing off of scholarly workers, it is clear that, across the UK, the term ‘academic leadership’ is ‘now unequivocally taken [to mean] “management of academic workers and institutions from above”’, and those that practise it have come to be ‘regarded as being worth more than academics of any sort.’ (Gupta 2015, parag. 5) In his last words to his colleagues, the late Prof. Grimm put it more forcefully, describing his employing institution in terms that at least some readers of this article may find resonant: as he saw it, it had become ‘a business with very few up in the hierarchy… profiteering and the rest of us… milked for money’, wherein the ‘formidable leaders’ that do the milking ‘treat us like shit.’ (Grimm 2014, parags. 12, 10, 16, reproduced in Parr 2014) It hardly needs pointing out that there has never been an attempt to demonstrate that academic work benefits from ‘leadership’ in the sense described by Gupta and Grimm: top-down control by target-setting, HR-sanctioned procedural bullying, and ‘strategic vision’. The drive for ‘leadership’ is, rather, part of an ideologically motivated investment in management at the expense of labour, clearly seen in the ballooning of executive salaries, both inside and outside educational institutions, during an age of so-called ‘austerity’.

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Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from https://culturalvalueproject.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/dr-daniel-allington-dr-anna-jordanous-and-dr-byron-dueck-online-networks-and-the-production-of-value-in-electronic-music/]

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

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SoundCloud and the social networks of electronic musicians: my talk at the Mitchell Centre, 16 June 2015

Last month, I was invited to speak at a Sociological Review symposium on Music and Social Networks, hosted by the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis and organised by Nick Crossley, the author of Networks of sound, style, and subversion: the punk and post-punk worlds of Manchester, London, Liverpool and Sheffield, 1975–80 (MUP, 2015). It was a brilliant event, and I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing. As I was extemporising from slides, I don’t have any proper notes to put up here – but I do at least have the livetweets. So here they are. They’re a pretty good record of a lot of my main points, provided you read ‘@dr_d_allington did X’ as ‘@dr_d_allington and his colleagues did X’ whenever the topic is music, and remember that those colleagues were the brilliant Anna Jordanous and Byron Dueck (or do I mean @annajordanous and @ByronRDueck?). I’ve inserted comments on the tweets where necessary.

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Casey got her job back last year (and other old news)

I haven’t had time to work on this blog for a long time. In the meantime, various things have happened. Here are three of them:

The list could (and probably should) go on, even if limited (as per usual for this blog) to non-personal issues. But I still haven’t got time.

That said, it’s good to be posting again. And to have a new theme for the website.

See you around.

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The geography of SoundCloud: who’s following whom?

[Cross-posted from http://valuingelectronicmusic.org/2014/09/08/geography-soundcloud-following/]

Wanting to find out what was typical SoundCloud behaviour – as opposed to what our case study users were doing – we took a random sample of 150000 SoundCloud accounts earlier this year and downloaded their profile data, plus the profile data of everyone they were following (plus some other stuff, but that’s for another time). One of the things we did with this data was to construct a social network graph showing ‘follow’ relationships at city level: every time our computer program found that a sampled user self-identified with city A followed a user self-identified with city B, it created an ‘arc’ (represented with an arrow) from city A to city B. We then combined all the arcs so that instead of, say, 2000 arcs from city A to city B, there would now be a single arc with a ‘weight’ of 2000. We then imported this data into Gephi, sized the nodes representing cities to reflect the total weight of all the incoming arcs, positioned them with the Force Atlas algorithm, and used the Louvain community detection method to identify ‘clusters’, where a cluster is a group of nodes that are better connected to each other than they are to nodes from outside the group. And here’s the result, with five colours to represent the five clusters.

Cities on SoundCloud: who's listening to whom?

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Choices, choices in the UK’s two-tier scholarly publishing system: Open Access and Creative Commons Licences for funded and unfunded research

I’ve written on Open Access in general terms before (Allington 2013a, Allington 2013b; see Anderson 2013 for further discussion), but now the issues are personal for me in a way they didn’t use to be. RCUK policy on Open Access is creating a two-tier system for research publication, and I’m about to find myself on both sides of the artificial divide. It’s like this.

It just so happens that there are a couple of proposed special issues of scholarly journals that it looks like I’ll be contributing to (once as myself, once as first among equals in a team of three), and that both are likely to see print at about the same time. One of the papers in question arises from research I did in my own time, and is therefore unaffected by Research Councils UK (RCUK) policy on Open Access (RCUK 2013). The other arises from research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council or AHRC (though come to think of it, much of the work was again done in my own time), so it is very much affected.

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